Exercise Prescriptions for Behavioral Health
It’s very easy in today’s society to overlook what can be the best remedy for some behavioral health conditions. Exercise, when done correctly, can cure many health conditions. Conditions like depression, grieving, stress, anxiety and even addiction can be treated (even cured) with an exercise prescription.
It’s common to refer to feelings, thoughts or our conscious, as a dynamic separate from one’s biology or physiology. But the truth is, anything that happens psychologically is directly related to a physiological cause (i.e., cause and effect). A person’s environment presents a variable, causing the nervous system to react, which then causes the endocrine system to release secretions, causing a neurological response. These are basic underlying biological mechanisms of any psychological or behavioral health condition.
Many times, pharmaceutical companies, psychiatrists and psychologists often fail to recognize this biological connection. When we look at the acute responses to narcotics, therapy or exercise, we see they all have similar effects. Each “prescription” relieves the person of their symptoms for temporary periods of time. But when we look at the chronic effects of each, exercise is increasingly positive, narcotics tend to garner a negative effect and therapy is more or less neutral. Over time the body builds up a tolerance to the narcotics positive effects and becomes more susceptible to its nasty side effects.
A behavioral health conditions’ acute responses and the chronic responses to exercise is all that’s needed to create the foundation for radical, truthful education and an understanding about the management of behavioral health. As for the acute responses to exercise as it relates to behavioral health, the most immediate response to exercise is the thermogenic effect – a stress reduction by exercise. As the participant engages in exercise, the metabolic inefficiency of the human body causes heat production resulting in relaxation. The hypothalamus (part of the brain) detects the elevation in the body’s temperature and consequently promotes a cortical relaxation effect in an attempt to maintain homeostasis. Immediately following an exercise bout one may experience what is known as the opponent-process theory of emotion, which describes the feel better effect following intense strain and extended exertion. It is theorized to be the result of a physiological coping response (i.e., the release of beta endorphin and mood-altering central neurotransmitters) which manage hormonal responses and breathing activity during this specified period. When these physiological responses to exercise are induced consistently, there is a reduction in the neurobiological activity associated with “state anxiety” and “trait anxiety.” The theory is that a volley of afferent rhythmic impulses from skeletal muscle during exercise, gives feedback to an inhibitory site at the brainstem, and this causes a quieting of the cognitive activity associated with stress and anxiety.
Experiencing acute adaptations to our body consistently is the forefront for a narrative that explains the chronic responses to exercise as it relates to behavioral health. Physical exercise is as effective initially, but ultimately, far more effective than medication in both men and women diagnosed with clinical depression. There is a continuous release of biogenic amines in the brain. Central levels of serotonin and neurotransmitters with antidepressant effects increase. As does dopamine and its’ receptor binding sensitivity – thus reducing the chances of subsequent bouts of depression and Parkinson’s disease, as well.
Finally, there is a drastic increase in norepinephrine, which continuously lowers during a bout of depression. As I expressed before, one of the acute response to exercise is a quieting of the cognitive activity associated with stress and anxiety. Eventually the result is several other cognitive benefits, such as an increase in memory, analytical thinking, planning, focus, concentration, decision making and improved reaction time. All of which result in the maturation of two specific psychological principles: Fluid Intelligence and Crystallized Intelligence.
Although these psychological benefits are the direct result of the development of physiological mechanisms, I’ve seldom – if ever – observed it to be recognized by any pharmaceutical company. Developments such as vascular changes, superior cognitive functioning, decrease in the decline of cerebral blood flow that normally occurs with aging (angiogenics), increased perfusion of the cerebral cortex, increase in the expression of genes that code for neurotrophic factors and BD NFs, promoting healthy neurons and the creation of new synapses, thus increasing the thickness and integrity of brain tissue, less activity in the sensory region of the brain in response to light stimulation and a more adaptive cortical response during decision-making, all of which enable resistance to fatigue over the course of a sustained mental effort. Taking into account these findings, the theory has become, that increased secretions in central levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, better neurotransmitter functioning and maintenance of the neurotrophic effect, and better oxygenation due to angiogenesis all work collectively to heal, replenish, preserve, and augment our mental functioning.
In light of this theory, Colombe and colleagues reported a positive relationship between oxidative capacity, and brain tissue density in several regions of the cerebral cortex, i.e. gray matter as well white matter tracts, allowing for better communication between various regions of the brain.
The positive effects of exercise on our mental functioning are more beneficial than any narcotic “Big Pharma” has to offer. Such exercise induced changes help manage our hormones, deliver oxygen and nutrients to neural tissue and thereby support the neural process underlying our behavioral health. Medication is a temporary fix. “Big Pharma” sells a temporary fix. But exercise provides symptom management and true healing. It is time for a change. A shift from Big Pharma and its allegiance with psychiatrists, to a proper exercise prescription.
If you’d like to be “prescribed” with an exercise program to help manage your behavioral conditions – anxiety, depression, etc., contact us today at (414) 529-9900, ext. 730.